Posts Tagged ‘sin’

This is the text of a talk I gave in Durham Cathedral on Wednesday 27th March 2013. It is much longer than my normal posts.  So maybe make yourself a drink before you settle down to it.

Reading: Matthew 26. 69-75

When he realises that he has fulfilled Jesus’ words by denying him, Peter does not only weep, but he weeps bitterly. What is it that makes his tears so sour? Why do the evangelists insist on that word bitterly, why does J.S. Bach make so much of it in both his great Passions?

It is, I suspect, the bitterness of self-disappointment.

Over the years, I have made something of a study of forgiveness (and yes, it is ironic that I am only now coming round to taking the subject of sin reasonably seriously…). The most common issue that comes up when you talk about forgiveness pastorally is that people say ‘the trouble is, I can’t forgive myself’.

Part of me always wants to say, ‘no you can’t, that’s just the way it is with forgiveness’. But the less analytical and more pastoral part of me understands. What I think people mean when they say that they can’t forgive themselves is that they have let themselves down and feel unworthy of self –respect, and therefore self-forgiveness.  This, I think is a common enough experience.  Not to be taken lightly. Rather to be taken as the salt in the wound of sin, the bitterness in Peter’s tears.

Some commentators have suggested that it is the bitterness in the tears that turns them into repentance.  This is a helpful suggestion and takes us away for the concept of self-forgiveness – indeed it suggests that a Christian reading is very different to a humanistic or straightforwardly psychological reading. The psychologist says,’ let me help you forgive yourself’. The Christian pastor says, ‘nope, you are right, you can’t forgive yourself and realising that is the beginning of repentance – and guess what! – the beginning of repentance is also the end of forgiveness.’

It is when you realise that you can’t forgive yourself that you truly open yourself to God’s forgiveness.

As the aria, Ebarme dich in the Bach’s Matthew Passion has it: ‘Have mercy, my God, for the sake of my tears! See here, before you heart and eyes weep bitterly. Have mercy on me, my God.’

That aria is a six-minute crucifixion on the emotions. In it, I hear the suggestion not that Peter was a bad man but that he was a good man trying his hardest doing his best and discovering that his best was not good enough. He was a strong man at full stretch and then beyond his elastic limit.

Bitter tears come for a soul that knows that it can never spring back into shape again – things will never be the same.  Bitter tears come with the recognition that the projects of self-sufficiency, self-justification, self-forgiveness, are all vain and ultimately useless. Bitter tears are those in the eyes of all who survey the wondrous cross and think to themselves – here is my hope, my only hope.

We have travelled a few steps with Peter these last few days. Seeing him rise and fall, excel and fail, be named the rock and now end up in a soggy mess of bitter tears, realising that his friend knew him better all along; his friend who is going to die alone.  I said on Monday that loneliness is the consequence of sin – not only of the sinner but of those who sinned against. Grace and agape – these are the things that banish loneliness, and if we live in society based on inclusion and social justice – well that helps banish loneliness too.

So the bitterness in our tears is that we can’t forgive ourselves because we no longer like or trust ourselves. And yet that intuition, that recognition, is not a one-way ticket to hell. Rather it is the necessary condition that allows us to avail ourselves of the love and mercy of God. We seek God’s forgiveness not because we would rather like God to do something that we can perfectly well do ourselves – at least on a good day. We seek God’s forgiveness because its only God’s forgiveness that can deal with the issue we have: and the issue that we have is that we are sinners and that our tears are not only copious and salty, but bitter. To say that they (our tears) are full of regret is to understate it. The point is that they are full of truthful self-recognition – and, as we all know, Jesus in the fourth gospel says without equivocation that the truth will set you free. What he doesn’t say is that the truth is very nice and that encountering it will be a pleasant or positive experience.

This short series of Holy Week talks has the title ‘Living with Sin’ and I have been trying to make connections between what you might call a contemporary mind-set and the word ‘sin’ which on the whole doesn’t fit there. We looked a bit at the deadlies yesterday and saw that in some ways it is difficult for us to see just why or how they are deadly.

This evening want to offer you a different range of things that might just help you make some sort of sense of the idea that there are some habits of mind, or attitudes of heart, that have the capacity to keep turning us away from God.   Before launching my list at you let me offer a few hints as to what I might be getting at.

First of all, the sorts of things that are on my list are things that have got the capacity to slip under the radar of self-awareness. I am not going to stand here and tell you that it is sinful to murder people or to steal from them. By the time there is a law against something it has lost, for most people, or at least most of the sorts of people who pop along to Cathedrals to hear talks about sin, much of its allure.

Nonetheless, you can be sure that the sin that best engages, I mean wastes,  your time and energy is not something that causes you to tut-tut, though there are plenty of examples of people tut-tutting against the things that in their life that are most ashamed of. This is tactical tut-tutting, the sort that seeks to set up a smokescreen.  People naively think that if they protest enough against something in others no one will ever suspect that this is, in fact, their own most troubling fault.

Of course it is not an iron rule – people who protest against things are not necessarily practising them, but there is often something going on like this when people become aggressive, or if they go on witch- hunt or start throwing blame around.

When it comes to the sins of our age we are all at them – to greater or lesser degrees. The sins, the thoughts of mind, the habits of the heart which are destructive in any culture tend to be participated in, more or less, by most of the people who inhabit that culture.  Our sins are indeed the sins of wealthy consumerist, late modern people living in the north Atlantic countries

One final word before I share my little list. It must be clear now that the sins that really matter are not the ones that easily make themselves known, not those which are advertised and not those which are themselves illegal.  The sins that matter are those which get under the radar, are insidious, common and sometimes even present themselves as virtues. Some of these are banal, others are things we might indeed feel proud of. It is worth remembering that Peter was in the end caught out in the very area where he felt he was strong – loyalty. ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’

It is clear that the things on my list are not intended to cause you to say tut-tut about others. More likely they will make you think that I have lost my senses.  Maybe I have.  You must make your own decision, but these are some of the more common ways in which we and others in our culture manage to distance ourselves from God and get in the way of grace. So here is my list of contemporary deadlies:

Niceness, busyness, grumbling, perfectionism, envy, and control-freakery.

I know it’s only six, but it’s enough to be going on with. If you want to add a couple to the list please feel free.

I have put them order of increasing toxicity.

Niceness is the most benign on the list. I don’t mean here to malign good manners, politeness courtesy and the like. There is real virtue here:  and Andre Compte-Sponville has it has the first on this list of 18 great virtues. He puts politeness first because it can be the first step to learning other virtues and I put it first because it can be the first part of the slippery slope.

But by niceness I mean the willingness to take short-cuts to popularity and influence.  Niceness is the sin that squeezes truth into a form that will please the very person who should be distressed by what they hear. Niceness lacks moral courage and is without faith in the reconciling power of grace.  When we are self-consciously and determinedly nice we are conflict and risk-averse.  We prefer to be on good terms than to face a necessary truth. To prioritise being nice is a way of getting on in the world, but that’s all it is.

No 2 is busyness. I have said plenty about this this Lent and persuaded a number of people to try to give it up.  See www.notbusy.co.uk The idea is not of course to give up on the attempt to make the best use of your time or to live vocationally or sacrificially. The idea is to remove yourself from the corrosive and toxic power of the’ busyness syndrome’ which mistakes activity for action and being wanted for being useful.

Third is grumbling. Benedict was onto this so we can hardly say that it is a new observation.  A few years ago I tried to give up grumbling for Lent – and thence for life. It’s not easy. Impossible in fact- indeed it is impossible entirely to avoid any of these deadly habits – which is why we rely on God’s forgiving grace rather than God’s just reward. Grumbling, however, is a major issue in our culture where the critical faculties needed to be a good scientist, and the sense of entitlement needed to be a demanding consumer, come together to create a social milieu which is often a long way from the values of, say, the Sermon on the Mount.  Someone once told me that her effort to give up grumbling nearly ruined her social life: what else is there to talk about than things that are not as they should be! Well, that’s the issue in a nutshell. If we rely on discontent to bond us we are a very long way from the kingdom of God.

Fourth comes perfectionism.  This is perhaps the silliest of sins. I mean who is ever going to get anything perfect?  And yet it is alive and well in us.  We get hints of this in some of the rhetoric that knocks around places like this – ‘world class’, ‘continuous improvement’ and so on.  These are the aspirations of those who have tasted success and want some more , want it all, perhaps, who want to be world-beaters, world-leaders, the best of the best, the most superlative. Perfectionism has its place – I mean, who wants a slap-dash dentist. But we all know that perfectionism means the striving for an unreasonable standard and letting that striving spoil things at the human level.

I have put envy fifth on my list. It is there propping up the 10 commandments in the form of covetousness and as we noted yesterday recognised by Jungian analysis and its derivatives. Envy is amazing in this capacity to shape our desires.  Just think of the amount of time you have spent comparing yourself with the qualities, successes, attributes or material goods of others.  Envy is necessary to the sort of political economy we have and for that reason perhaps gets a better press than it deserves.

(Come to think of it I don’t recall hearting many sermons against envy.  If I heard an excellent one I’d probably be jealous of the gifts of the preacher and to compensate would grumble about its deficiencies. All sins are connected… )

It’s only when we get beyond envy that we can fully appreciate the way in which God loves and shines through others.  If you are seeing a person though envious eyes you are not seeing what God sees.  If our eyes were but more graceful (grace- filled) we would know less of envy.

Finally I come to control-freakery. This is the desire we have to be in charge, to sort things out, to determine things, to have our own way. This is connected to the idea of will-to-power and it lies behind a phenomenal amount of personal ambition, behaviour as well as banes of modern life such as managerialism.

The neuroscientist Ian McGilchrist has argued that the left hemisphere of the brain is our on-board manager, accountant, planner and analyst and that we would certainly be lost without it.  But he has also argued that the left brain has a huge blind-spot, and that blind-spot lies in failing to appreciate the value of the right brain. Indeed the left brain – the manager – puts a lot of energy into trying to neutralise the visionary, creative, artistic, subtle, sensitive spiritual right hemisphere.

McGilchrist believes that we are at a decisive point in the history of our culture in terms of whether we let the control-freak tendency in human beings finally run the show, or whether we open ourselves to a more enlightened and spiritually open form of living.  We need not over-dramatize this in order to recognise that the part of us which seeks to grab and grasp control is not the grace-open or grace-sensitive part. Control-freakery is animated by fear and anxiety, and the attitude which tends to denigrate the competencies of others and over-estimate the self.

Which takes us back to Peter territory – the territory that takes us on a journey to the cross – but not by a direct route. The journey to the cross for the sinful disciple is not the route of the Via Dolorosa. Rather it is the journey that comes to an abrupt end at cockcrow, and which continues not clear-sightedly, but as we feel our way forward tentatively, our eyes filled with bitter tears which know we cannot forgive ourselves. Tears that are the beginning of the repentance that proves that, after all, we do trust in Christ alone:  for his redeeming, reconciling and renewing love; in a word, for his great accomplishment – his life-giving, sprit-breathing resurrection.

The resurrection alone can deal with our sins. They are never going not be eradicated for us, but if we are to live a radically new life it will be without them, and with and in the fellowship that is God’s will or all those whom he loves. Those whom he sees not as unworthy sinners, but as children who know that they cannot forgive themselves and so who turn to him in an act of repentance which is both the deepest desperation and the most sublime hope.

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This is the text of a talk I gave in Durham Cathedral on Monday 25th March 2013. It is much longer than my normal posts.  So maybe make yourself a drink before you settle down to it.

Reading: Matthew 16.13-23

For some while I have been intrigued by the contrast between the way we talk in church and the way we talk the rest of the time.  This is obvious point to someone who is not often at a religious service and then for some reason appears at one.  They expect the talk to be of God, and spirit and for Jesus to be mentioned and for there to be hymns and other sorts of music together with a certain amount of standing up and sitting down, maybe even a bit of a kneel from time to time.  What they probably do not expect is for people to talk about ‘sin’ and ‘sins’ without batting an eyelid, as if the words were commonly used and universally understood.

As you know, neither is the case.  Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic puts it like this:

Everybody knows.. that ‘sin’ basically means ‘indulgence’ or enjoyable naughtiness’. If you were worried, you’d us a different word or phrase. You’d talk about ‘eating disorders’ or ‘addictions’; you’d go to another vocabulary cloud altogether. The result is that when you come across someone trying to use ‘sin’ in its old sense, you may know perfectly well in theory that they must mean something which isn’t principally chocolatey, and yet the modern mood music of the word is so inconsistent that it’s hard to hear anything except and invocation of a trivially naughty pleasure.  (Spufford Unapologetic p26)

‘A trivially naughty pleasure’:  that’s more or less what people hear when we use the word ‘sin’.

One particularly sensitive arena of liturgical language is the baptism service.  Because baptism defines a person as a Christian it follows that the words of the service add up to a kind of collective definition of the Christian faith – an expanded creed.  This means that it serves something of a technical purpose for the church as a whole – the baptism service tells us who we are.  And yet the baptism service is that which is placed most clearly not in the heart of the church’s life or self-consciousness – but rather at the threshold, on the edge.  Most fonts are located, both conveniently and symbolically, near the church door.

When I was an incumbent we worked hard to develop the ministry of baptism to be meaningful for both the families who came and the regular members of the congregation.  Once a month the Sunday morning service was ‘baptism’ and we took time to reflect on it at PCC meetings.  One of my churchwardens had some interesting observations.  ‘They can understand what you are on about when you are talking to them’ he said, but when you start reading the service they are completely lost. For instance, where it talks about ‘dying to sin’ they all think it means, ‘longing to go outside for a cigarette’.

I think he was probably right. I now wish that I had kept the PCC conversation on that subject – ‘what do you think it means to ‘die to sin’?’ I expect it would have been quite an interesting discussion, uncomplicated by New Testament scholarship. If we had pursued the subject it is likely that someone would have talked about ‘original sin’ and someone else would have said they did not know what that meant and another should have said that it meant that unbaptized babies went to hell but that they did not believe any such thing and then someone would have said, ‘it’s twenty to nine’ and that would have been an end of it.

I say that not by way of criticism, but as a description about the way people approach such issues on planet parish. Most people have neither the time nor the energy or the capacity for a big philosophical discussion as part of, never mind anterior to, their participation in a life of faith and spirituality.

So as I see it we have a real problem of communication. To understand and participate in the Christian faith you have to be reasonably confident that you know what people mean when they use the word ‘sin’ or when you describe yourself as ‘a sinner’. And yet the words don’t seem to have any kind of serious meaning in ordinary language today.

I am curious about all this.  The word and concept of ‘sin’ are inescapable in Christianity, and yet the word is so far out of fashion as to be positively embarrassing. When talking with a priest about a situation I suggested that this was just the sort of consequence of sin that we should expect. He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think any other sentence from you would have surprised me more’.

‘No,’ I protested, ‘sin is serious stuff.   We need to get more accustomed to speaking of it in everyday life, because unless we have an eye open for sin and are prepared to get some sort of understanding of what it is, and how it tends to work, and what its consequences are, and how it can be remedied, we are in a very gloomy place indeed. There is nothing sin likes more than to slip under the radar and go undetected.’

I still hold that view, but I am not at all surprised at the priest’s response to my introducing sin into our conversation.  It has become hard for us to imagine that the word will do any useful work.  We expect it to be a conversation stopper rather than to be a stepping stone to a better future. And this is what will not so.  If you take one thing from this series of talks, pick up the idea that the Christian faith means that sin is never the end of the story. What we mean by sin, at one level, is ‘that which can and will be redeemed by the God of love, mercy, grace, truth and peace’.  Holy Week and Easter are about what sin does to God and what God does to sin. It’s a real battle and yet sin does not get the better of God.  We can argue about what the enigmatic words of Jesus from the cross in John’s gospel mean:  the words translated, ‘It is finished’ or ‘It is accomplished’, but you can be sure it does not mean that sin got the upper hand. The cross and resurrection mean that sin does not win.

If you are going to take a second thing from these talks please make it this idea. While Jesus triumphed over sin, he did not destroy the reality of sin. Sin is alive and well and working on all sorts of projects in and around us: mostly, I suspect, undermining of Christ’s ministry and God’s mission, which are the only reasons for the church to exist.

And it is for this reason that it is worth thinking and talking about sin.  Sin is the source of misery of every conceivable kind. In particular, it is an engine of loneliness and a dynamo of destruction.  Sin erodes community and fellowship; it attacks love and friendship and creates fantasies of fulfilment and happiness which are the direct of opposite of wholesome and contented living.

And, just to underline the point, sin is going nowhere.  Christ has triumphed over sin and the church will not be vanquished, but we are all in for a struggle in our lives of faith and we may as well recognise that despite what we often think feel and say, the true struggle is not caused by those very difficult and unreasonable people who have different views and values to mine. Of course intra-church conflict, like inter-church conflict and inter-faith conflict, is painful and animated by sin.  But it is so rare in a conflict that one side is absolutely right and the other 100% wrong that it is a sensible working hypotheses to assume that there are always at least two sides to a conflict; that one person’s story, however convincing of their innocence and someone else’s guilt or stupidity or aggression or sheer bloody-mindedness, is never the whole truth.

The real struggle is not between good and reasonable us and bad and crazy them.  The true struggle is between grace and sin: and they are at war within us as much as around us.

I am not going to refer to many books in these talks but here is one. Simply called ‘Sin’ it is a series of lectures about the meanings that the word ‘sin’ took in the early church. The author, Paula Friedriksen, argues that ‘ancient ideas of sin… are, like all human products, culturally constructed’. (Sin P150).  She certainly manages to show a wide variety of understanding in her study of Jesus, Paul, various Gnostics and then Origen and Augustine. I found her contrast between Jesus and Paul especially illuminating. This is how she characterises them.

Jesus, she says, is interested in Jewish sin – breaking the 10 Commandments – and he teaches people how not to and what to do when they have – repent.  The coming kingdom is the home of repentant sinners, not those who have always kept the commandments.

Paul’s concern, on the other hand, is with what she calls ‘Gentile sin’:  idol worship which leads on to theft, adultery, murder and fornication.  The problem is not that people fail to obey the law of Moses, but that they run after false gods and this messes them up. But he also believes in universal redemption because in the end sin will be utterly defeated and its traces eroded.

We could spend the week examining these thumbnail sketches and exploring the territory they open up.  Let us rather take a brief look at what Fredriksen suggests about sin today. Recognising that the word is not much used reflects on people talk about their wrongdoing – whether criminal or otherwise culpable.

‘I am struck by the ways that ostensible acknowledgements of culpability minimize or even efface personal agency, thus responsibility.’ P147

For Friedriksen, sin has simply become ‘error’. She suggests that people do not say that they are culpable but that they have made a blunder. As she observes, responsible figures who have done wrong and been caught out often adopt the passive voice ‘mistakes were made’, they say. If they are bolder might say ‘I made a mistake’ but what rarely hear anyone way, ‘I did something wrong’.

Friedriksen concludes her volume with the words, ‘at the end of the day, however defined, “sin” suits its times’. P150 If you have an abstract theological head on that might sound offensively relativistic ad you will want to say, ‘no, sin is sin is sin. It is that which separates us from God.’  But think for a moment, what exactly is it separates the ‘real me’ from the ‘real God’?  That is the practical, pastoral urgent question of sin.  And the way I have set it up is not in terms of how to overcome sin or even avoid it.  It is rather the significantly cooler question of how to live with it.

By this I don’t mean that we have to learn how to come to terms with our own badness and wrongdoing as if it were not reprehensible or that we were not responsible. Rather, we have to learn precisely how to live with sin, to understand that while deeply negative and destructive, it is here in us today and it will be in us tomorrow and on the day we die.  We have to acknowledge that it will also be in and among others, and that the dynamics of sin are part and parcel of every group, institution, corporation, church and charity we will ever come across.  ‘Can Companies Sin?’ asked Justin Welby when studying for ordination here in Durham. I suspect that he knew the answer was going to be ‘yes’ before he write one word of his dissertation.

I have chosen for the readings these three evenings, short episodes from Matthew’s gospel where you could say that Peter encounters himself.  This evening’s was at Caesarea Philippi where Peter revealed his independence of mind and the courage of his insight in saying that despite what everyone else was saying that Jesus was the Messiah. It’s a great moment from Peter but it doesn’t take long for him to slip away from the glory of the moment into a very dark, dismal and lonely place. Peter takes Jesus to one side to rebuke him for prophesying suffering that was to come. As we know, this doesn’t go down very well with Jesus who immediately rounds on him: ‘Get behind me Satan… you are a stumbling block’.

It’s quite a fall from grace: from rock to block in five verses.

There is so much to learn from this about our own sin and sinning.  Here is a suggestion to reflect on.

You are never so vulnerable to sin as when you have just done well and been praised for it.

We don’t know what was going on in Peter’s mind, but for some reason he has overestimated himself; he seems to have let Jesus affirmation of his solidity, his judgement, his insight, his rock-like-ness go to his head.  ‘That’s cool. I got the Messiah question right against all the odds, what’s next for me… bring it on!’  We might call this the Solomon complex – thinking that we are wiser  than we are, fancying ourselves as  the Solomon of our day.  It’s a dangerous place to find yourself – indeed you never find yourself there until you put your foot in it.  And yet, and this is part of the point of my title ‘living with sin’m the Solomon complex it is an inevitable danger if, for whatever reason, your wisdom and insight is praised.  Someone has to occupy leadership positions and it as well if the people who do so have some confidence in their own judgement.  One positive consequence of keeping the language of sin alive in everyday life is that it might warn those new into public office that they are very likely to have their all-too-Peter-like moments.

The Christian world is in the extraordinary position of having a brand new Pope and a brand new Archbishop of Canterbury.  Who knows what’s going on in the minds and hearts of these two men these days, but you can be sure they are not beyond sin. No one is. Can archbishops sin?  You don’t need to write a dissertation to know the answer to that one. What matters is that archbishops and others know that the answer is not only affirmative but definite – they can sin and they will sin.

And so will you. And the chances are it will happen not when you are feeling malevolent, naughty or chocolatey but when you are feeling so confident that you decide that you know best.

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Francis Spufford’s new book has been billed as a gutsy riposte to the new atheists. And it is. He tells us in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t like being patronised by nit-wits.  No one knows whether God exists – ‘not even Richard  (expletive deleted) Dawkins’. But this work is more than a two-finger salute the atheist bus. It is an equal challenge to the Christian community to gets its intellectual act together.

So, where does Spufford go? To a theology Library? To a desert monastery? To a great cathedral? To the vicar’s study? No, none of these. He goes to the coffee-shop. And there he writes a report from the inside of his head.

And riveting stuff it is too. The Bishop of Bradford likes it, telling his blog-readers that it is  ‘wonderful, funny, totally engaging and sweary… – the best book on Christian faith I have read for ages.’

I read the first chapter through at great speed when it was published in the Guardian’s Review section. On the front page too. This is where theology needs to be. And more of it needs to be in this tone of voice and about these issues. This is passionate theology. Theology with attitude, edge and bite. But also lived and lived-in theology.  Spufford does not tell us much about his personal experiences but there is a book called ‘Celebration’ by one Margaret Spufford which engages profoundly with the issues of first-hand suffering, pain and loss. The preface tells us that Francis read the draft.  That was back in the 1990s.  ‘Unapologetic’ may have been written in a coffee-shop but it has been made over many years. And there is nothing arm’s length, academic, pious or – apologetic – about it.

‘Unapologetic’ has been widely reviewed already and the religious press will catch up before long. So this is not a review.  Rather a coffee-time list of six things I really like about it.

  1. Its passion.  Spufford cares about this stuff.  He needs to get it straight and clear in his mind and on the page. There is too much nonsense spoken. Too many intellectual short-cuts are too commonly made. If this is a rant it is a rant which says, ‘come on everyone, take this stuff more seriously’.
  2. Its use of langauge. It’s both colloquial and intelligent. You feel that if you interrupted him writing and started a chat the idiom would remain much the same. Yes, it’s sweary and on the whole we try to do theology without swearing. But careful swearing, if I can put it that way, can be a way of pointing to the known inadequacy of my words in the face of what I am trying to communicate. There is self-exasperation in swearing, as well as indignation. It means ‘I need you to know that I know that I can’t think of anything better to say but that something more does need to be said – now.’ Every theologian should know self-exasperation – should be frustrated by how little they can put on the page.
  3. It is serious about sin. Not just moral infringement but original sin.  The church has more or less forgotten about sin – apart from when talking liturgy-speak in services. Most of us think of sin either in a camped-up or a dumbed-down way.  Spufford has none of it. Humans always make a mess of things. Get over your fantasy that maybe you are the one who might be without sin yourself. As Jesus put it – if you are without sin then by all means throw stones at those you judge, but do first have a peep inside yourself.
  4. It is realistic about Jesus. He calls him ‘Yeshua’ – that being his non-Latinised name. He probably did have bad teeth and all the other unsavoury characteristic of those who lived rough a long time ago.  There were obviously no Victorian stained-glass windows in Spufford’s coffee shop scriptorium. He gives us Jesus raw.
  5. This is going to sound pompous, but ‘Unaplogetic’ meets my own personal criterion for ‘proper theology’. That is, it is serious and articulate about grace.  Not in a preachy or monography way, but in a real way. Grace is what lies in and behind all forgiveness, healing and restoration. All ‘mending’, as he puts it.  We cannot fix ourselves. Yet there is grace. Or at least this is what we believe because we find ourselves less undermined by ourselves and by suffering than we could ever imagine, given our experience – when we are honest about it. And we believe it both because we know the story of Jesus and because, when you come to think of it, and many do think just this, while the story of God becoming human is unlikely to humanly minded people, and unpalatable to metaphysical purists, it is the only non-outraging way into the problem of suffering.
  6. And because it is serious about grace and real about sin is not an optimistic book but a book of hope. Hope against hope, perhaps, but real hope.  We are both more broken and more mended than we realise. And this is what makes emotional sense – by which he does not mean a less than fully rational sense but a more than merely cognitive sense.

So, get the book, get some coffee and start reading.

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